The Christmas Story and Betrayal Trauma

The Christmas Story and Betrayal Trauma

This has been on my heart all week and I decided to share in hopes that it will speak to some of the hurts betrayed partners experience, especially in the Christmas season.

This article is for betrayed partners who identify as Christians.  Betrayed partners experience struggles with their faith.  I grieve with you if you are experiencing spiritual struggles during the holiday season.  Christmas can be filled with emotional reminders of lost dreams and trauma triggers.  Several years ago, I remember attending church on Christmas morning.  I was in my normal seat – hiding out in the balcony, when I looked down and noticed some people in a new way.  One was a longtime friend.  Her children were in school with my daughter.  I noticed she had no family with her.  I realized this was her first Christmas since the divorce and her children were with their father, the one who betrayed her repeatedly.  Her first Christmas morning without her kids at home.  I went to invite her to come home for Christmas dinner with our family.  This made me reflect more on what betrayed partners experience during this time of year.

One of the many spiritual challenges partners face when they seek support from their church family is having their experiences minimized, if not completely dismissed.  Or people in their faith community begin ignoring their calls and texts and are suddenly too busy to spend time with them.  Feeling isolation where there was once community is confusing and devastating.  It seemed like the church had all kinds of grace and acceptance for the addict, but none for her.

Last year as I worked with partners through the Christmas season, I began to reflect on a part of the Christmas story that isn’t emphasized in nativity pageants and holiday festivities.  It’s the part of the story where Mary, a virgin, learns she is pregnant.  She is engaged to be married to a carpenter named Joseph. An angel had told her she would have a son and would name him Jesus (Luke 1:29-31).  Can you imagine what Joseph experienced when he heard the news?  This young girl, who he believes is a virgin and has been faithful to him during their dating relationship is coming up pregnant right before the wedding.  Shock, pain, devastation, anger, pain, fear, humiliation and all of the emotions experienced by a betrayed partner.  As Joseph works through his grief, he decides to break things off with Mary.  What would it be like to raise another man’s child?  How would he be seen in the community?  All of the shame messages and questions that hit upon discovery of betrayal.  He is experiencing the consequences of what he believes was Mary’s choice to cheat.

Something happens next that may show the heart of God for betrayed partners.  Matthew chapter 1:20-21 says

But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”

I can’t think of any other place in the Bible where God sent an angel to send a message of comfort to an individual who was so deeply wounded.  This must speak to the depth of pain God realized that a betrayed partner would experience.  I shared this concept with a few partners this week and they found it to be comforting.   I don’t believe it was an accident that God would recognize the devastation of betrayal on one individual and provide comfort in a way no other human could do. As far as I can remember, this is the only time in scripture that this happens.  It tells me that the pain of the betrayed is near to the heart of God.

It’s my hope that one day the church will desire to comfort betrayed partners with the same heart that God showed Joseph.  The next time someone wants to minimize your pain and believes it “really isn’t that bad,” remember that God values you and your pain so deeply that he intervened in one of the most significant moments in history to bring comfort to someone experiencing the same things you have.  It’s my prayer that you will experience special comfort during this season.

Richard Blankenship, LPC, NCC, CCH, CPCS, CCPS, CSRRS

What Should I Give My Son for Christmas

It was like most mornings. I was sitting at the computer, looking at e-mail and Facebook, waiting for breakfast. My groggy-eyed son comes in and sits on my lap. This scene happens on most mornings in my house. But today was different. No sooner than he got in my lap he said, “Daddy, can we look at my Wish List on Amazon?” His focus was not on getting some hugs but getting some gifts. Now to defend my son his wish list is rather modest at the moment. I am sure it will grow longer as Christmas approaches. He will ask for gaming systems and tablets, along with video games and movies. All the things that boys like to play with. He is a normal kid. He wants it all.

But as I look at his list I know the most important thing that I can give him is not on his list. I need to give him myself. He would never ask for it on his list, but he expects it and sometimes demands it. It is funny how sometimes if I do not respond to the request or the need, he will ask for it in ways that are quite annoying. I get a note from the teacher or I have to reprimand him for something he does at home. If I don’t give him my time voluntarily, I will give him my time at a moment that is not as convenient for me.

Spending time with Joey also saves me time in the long run. As we spend time together, we learn to trust each other. Because of the trust, we can discuss what is going on. I do not have to drag it out of him. Don’t you hate dragging stuff out of your children? Spending time with him means he learns me and I learn him. It helps me know how I can best help him and not waste my time in areas that are not a challenge for him. I found out he is remarkably honest. I remember when he was younger; I kept trying to catch him being sneaky (because I was sneaky as a child). I could not catch him because that is just not him. But I do know he can be forgetful and has a hard time managing time. So I know I need to work with him on organization and time management.

And then there are the memories. Just yesterday, Joey was playing “Smash Brothers” with his friend. They were fighting each other on the screen. They were having a blast. The game and the video system were gifts from an earlier Christmas and birthday. But I don’t think he will remember the video games as much as the times we camp out in the backyard and just talk with each other about everything and nothing all at the same time. Or the memories made Saturday afternoons swimming at the “Y”. He will take his memories through life. They will affect him when he is feeling low. He knows he has a safe place at home because we spent time together. They will also impact the kind of daddy he will be.

Although you cannot buy the gift of yourself at the store, I do not want to imply that it is not costly. Being your real self is hard. In the classic storybook The Velveteen Rabbit or How Toys become Real, the wise old Skin Horse is describes what it means to be real to the new toy a Velveteen Rabbit.

“It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse. “You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t often happen to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. 

“Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand… once you are Real you can’t become unreal again. It lasts for always.”

Being real and spending time with your child is the best gift you can give. After all, Christmas is the time we celebrate the greatest gift ever, when God himself came to earth as a man in the form of Jesus. As you wonder how can I get the best gift for my children (or spouse, or parent) look in the mirror the best gift you can give is already there.